Question How can you distinguish real holy men from charlatans?
RADHIKA SEKAR holds a PhD in religious studies and taught Hinduism courses at Carleton and University of Ottawa. An aspiring Vedantin, she is a devotee of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna to describe the personality of a holy person. Lord Krishna refers to such persons as sthita-prajna (sthitha means “standing,” prajna means “wisdom”) who are ever focused on the Brahman (God).
They see the presence of God in all and live “neither agitated by grief or hankering after pleasure, free from lust, fear and anger!” (56-74).
It is fairly obvious that only those in the category of a Buddha, Jesus, Sri Ramakrishna or a Sri Ramana qualify. Even Mahatma Gandhi admitted that he was not a saint but “a politician trying to be a saint.”
But in this New Age we have many contenders both from the East and West. While some are genuinely spiritual, others unfortunately are self-appointed gurus who are little more than good businessmen or worse, charlatans who prey on the gullible and emotionally and psychologically vulnerable.
Realization is a private experience and there is no perfect way to gauge a person’s spirituality. However there are signs; spirituality is reflected in a person’s actions, habits and character. But again many of these signs can be faked. So one must be wary.
There are several websites that offer tips on how to recognize a false guru. These include being wary of those who proclaim their own enlightenment, claim to be incarnations of particular deities, explain away their outrageous and often abusive behaviour as intended to help followers grow, present meditative or healing techniques as uniquely their own, encourage adoration and are not available to followers.
In many organizations followers who gain accreditation by taking the organization’s teachers training courses supervise initiates. Lastly, but most crucially, real gurus do not engage in sexual affairs with followers. This amounts to abuse.
Character must be the foremost quality of a guru.
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